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By Bill Kwon
"South of the Border."
My favorite karaoke song at the 19th hole.
And starting today, my thoughts stray south of the border down Mexico way as the LPGA returns to action with the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, about 200 miles from Mexico City.
Suddenly, Mexico is the new Hawai'i. Where once we had three LPGA events, we're shut out in 2010, while Mexico now hosts three, including the inaugural Acapulco LPGA Classic, thanks to the influence of Lorena Ochoa, the tour's four-time player of the year.
This week's stop is especially significant because it's the first tournament since Ochoa announced her retirement. She is still performing at the top of her game, but the No. 1 women's golfer in the world plans on defending her Tres Marias Championship title before hanging it up, although not for good. She will continue to play annually in the eponymous invitational in her hometown of Guadalajara in November.
While Ochoa will be the main story line, what's of interest is the question: Who will succeed her as the next No. 1? Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship for her second major title, are second and third, respectively, in the latest World Rolex Rankings, but are skipping this week. Also of interest is the appearance of ninth-ranked Michelle Wie — counted on by the LPGA to provide the star power it desperately needs with Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam gone — in the 132-player field.
Wie also has a thing going with Mexico. She posted a top-10 finish in the Michoacan event last year and went on to win the Lorena Ochoa Invitational for her first LPGA victory. She's glad to be back South of the Border in making her first appearance there since her break-through win.
"I enjoy playing in Mexico, and the fact that I've done well there, and earned my first win there, will always make it a special place for me," Wie replied in an e-mail Q&A. "The fans in Mexico have always been great to us, and I think that's one of the things that makes playing there special. They really appreciate good golf and we appreciate them."
And with Ochoa's surprising retirement, Wie feels winning the tournament named after the Mexican superstar now seems doubly significant. "I was already very proud of that, but I think given her announcement, it will make the week even more emotional and important to me," said Wie, looking forward to defending her title in Ochoa's native Guadalajara.
"Lorena knew how big a moment that was for me, and how happy I was. I was also proud that my first win came at her event. Lorena has accomplished so much and I look forward to doing many of those things in my career as well, so it was an honor to win there.
"It's always a loss when you have the number one player leaving the game, but more importantly we're going to miss Lorena the person out there every week. She's a great person. But I'm a huge believer in the depth of the talent on the LPGA Tour and know that we won't miss a beat there. Whenever one star retires, another star emerges, and women's golf has a lot of players who can fill that role."
Here's hoping that Wie can be one of the young American stars who can fill that role. The LPGA certainly hopes so.
Ochoa said when she started playing golf as a 5-year-old 23 years ago, she had the dream of becoming the best player in the world. Mission accomplished.
Now, it's Wie's turn to try and fulfill a similar dream when she first picked up a golf club at about the same age.
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com.